LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) –
Wigan Athletic overcame second-tier Millwall 2-0 at a rain-soaked Wembley Stadium on Saturday to reach the FA Cup final for the first time in the club’s 81-year history.
A modest crowd of below 63,000 saw Scottish attacking midfielder Shaun Maloney claim the opening goal with a composed volley mid-way through the first half.
Initially cowed by Wigan’s authoritative passing game, Millwall rallied in the second period, but Callum McManaman capped a fine individual performance with his side’s second goal 12 minutes from time.
“It is a great feeling, but it is one of relief, particularly with the way the second half went. It will sink in during the next few weeks,” Maloney told BBC radio.
The closing moments of the game were, however, overshadowed by fighting amongst Millwall fans which was broken up by baton-wielding police officers.
Wigan now await the winners of Sunday’s other semi-final between Manchester City and holders Chelsea, as they look forward to a second major domestic final after a one-sided loss to Manchester United in the 2006 League Cup.
However, for all their exploits in the cup, Wigan remain in the Premier League’s relegation zone, and Maloney added: “We have a big next month coming up in the Premier League now.”
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez unexpectedly handed goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi a first start since March 2, but it was his opposite number, David Forde, who was the focus of activity in the first half.
Wigan’s first sight of goal arrived in the second minute, but Mark Beevers slid in well to block after space opened up in front of Spanish midfielder Jordi Gomez.
James Henry dragged a shot wide for Millwall and Danny Shittu thundered an ambitious free-kick well over the bar, but Wigan were soon back on the attack.
Forde raced out to save at the feet of Arouna Kone, before springing to his right to repel McManaman’s crisp drive with a two-handed parry.
There was a sense of inevitability about the breakthrough, which arrived in the 25th minute.
Kone was the architect, brilliantly chesting down a high ball and spinning away from a clutch of defenders before crossing for the unmarked Maloney to steer an assured volley beneath Forde.
Forde had to collect an acrobatic volley from Paul Scharner and although Millwall briefly threatened to come back into the game, the half ended with Wigan on the front foot once again.
McManaman lofted a shot over the bar from the edge of the box after another probing incursion from Kone, while Gomez tested Forde with a first-time shot from 18 yards.
Wigan were playing with the same poise that had seen them stun Everton 3-0 in the quarter-finals and despite Millwall packing their midfield, Maloney, McManaman and Kone were finding plenty of space.
McManaman was at it again early in the second half, worming his way to the byline on the left and then leaving two defenders on the turf as he cut inside, only to curl his shot over the bar.
Belatedly, Millwall came to life, and after Henry swept a free-kick just over the bar, Scharner had to produce a crucial block to thwart Andy Keogh.
Moments later, Wigan were given a huge fright when Beevers’ downward header hit Scharner and fortuitously bounced over the crossbar.
Millwall manager Kenny Jackett sought to capitalise on the momentum by introducing striker Rob Hulse.
Keogh thought he should have had a penalty when his cross struck Scharner’s arm, but referee Michael Oliver, who had a good view of the incident, was unmoved.
McManaman continued to provide a threat whenever he picked up the ball wide on the Wigan left, however, and in the 78th minute he put the result beyond doubt, darting onto Gomez’s through pass before rounding Forde and sliding the ball home.
Forde denied Kone a third Wigan goal, by which time Millwall’s fans appeared to be taking their frustrations out on each other, with police forced to intervene after fighting broke out among their supporters.Published 13 Apr 2013, 23:59 IST